Friday, April 30, 2010
The book of Esther has always been a book that I can’t put down. Whenever I start reading it, I find myself finishing it in the same sitting because it is an amazing story. God is not mentioned in the 10 chapters of Esther, but His hand is definitely seen all over it. Currently, I am studying the book of Esther through Beth Moore’s study, Esther: It’s Tough Being a Woman. This has been good for me because it has forced me to slow down as I study the book. I am so familiar with the story, so slowing down has allowed me to see new insights that I have missed before. While I am only half way through that study, I am jumping ahead to look at the end of the story. Before you read Esther 9, please let me set the stage.
Some of the Israelites chose to stay in the Persian Empire when Artaxerxes allowed them to go. Esther’s family was a family that lived in Susa, the capital of the Empire. Esther was raised by Mordecai, her cousin. Long story short, the king chose Esther to be his queen. Because the king’s (Xerxes) second hand man (Haman) hated Mordecai and the Jews, Haman arranged to have all the Jews slaughtered. Once again, without telling the whole story, Haman’s plot was exposed and the king gave the Jews permission to fight back. Please read Esther 9:1-18 to see what happened.
Verse 18 says, “The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.” That is something they celebrate to this day; it is the Feast of Purim! Their joy was in their salvation. God had just rescued them from complete eradication. They not only saw salvation, they experience victory over their enemies. We have a salvation from which we receive joy. Our salvation is in the death and resurrection of our dear Savior, Jesus. The grace and mercy that God extended to us through Jesus is greater than anything this world has to offer us. We were condemned to die and instead we have been given eternal life and victory over death! We have an eternal joy and hope!
Psalm 51:12 says, “Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.” When the external things in life press in hard, we can turn to God and ask to have the joy of our salvation to be restored. Remember the joy of the Lord is our strength! When we tap into the joy that comes from our salvation, we are strengthened.
Are you joyful about your salvation?
Thursday, April 29, 2010
Yesterday, I was talking with a friend how debilitating anxiety can be. In its worse form, anxiety can completely hold a person in bondage. It feeds upon itself until the person experiencing anxiety is frozen. The person experiencing anxiety can only think about is what is causing the anxiety – whether it is real or not. Anxiety weakens a person. One thing I can say with conviction is that anxiety is not from God. God does not freeze us in fear and worry. God empowers us with strength to make it through whatever situation we are in. Today, we get to see how God uses joy to empower us.
Before you read Nehemiah 8, let me set the stage. The Israelites were living in captivity in the Persian Empire. When they were first brought into captivity by the Babylonian Empire, they were scattered throughout the empire so that they could not assemble and create an insurrection. Artaxerxes, the emperor, had been allowing the Israelites to slowly return back to their homeland. God placed the desire on Nehemiah’s heart to rebuild the wall around Jerusalem when he found out that it was in terrible disrepair. Nehemiah worked in the court as the king’s cupbearer, but the king gave him permission to go and rebuild the wall. Isaiah wrote about this in Isaiah 61:1-4; he prophesized that the ancient ruins would be rebuilt. After the wall was rebuilt, Nehemiah saw that the Israelites had no knowledge of God’s law and had it read to them in an assembly. In order for their healing to be complete they needed to know how their actions affected them and everyone around them. With that history in mind, please read Nehemiah 8:1-18.
The Israelites began to mourn and weep as they listened to the law because they realized that they were not following the law. Nehemiah said to the people, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” As I thought on that statement, I understood how the joy of the Lord is our strength, but I couldn’t understand why they were to be joyful after hearing the law and gaining knowledge that they had been disobedient. But reading on, I saw that they became joyful in their obedience to God. They were happy to obey. Please look at Psalm 1:1-3. We see that the person who delights in obedience becomes like a “tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season.” Look back in Isaiah 61:3 where it says, “They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the LORD for the display of His splendor.” Wow! How beautiful is it that God gives us joy in our obedience and as we bear fruit? Do you remember what Jesus told about those who obey? He told us that if we love Him we need to obey His commands and His command was to love each other (John 15:10, 17). He also told us this because if we remain in Him, His joy will be in us and our joy will be complete (John 15:11).
The joy we gain in obedience empowers us to be obedient! It is our strength to be obedient when it is difficult to obey. When we know that we are pleasing God, we have joy just like the Israelites were joyful to obey in a way that hadn’t happened for several generations.
Do you obey and love with joy? Are you joyful knowing that you are pleasing God?
Wednesday, April 28, 2010
The word joy has different meanings to different people. As I study joy this week, I want to make sure that my view on joy is a Biblical view and not a world-view. I think the key difference is that the world-view of joy is happiness that is evoked by external events, while I view joy as a happiness that is evoked by who we are in Christ – no matter what our external circumstances may be. Joy is an internal event while happiness is an external event. Sometimes we have to choose joy, and the Bible gives us direction and encouragement to help us along the way. Let’s look at how Jesus showed us the way to the joy that only He could give in John 15:5-12. Please read this scripture carefully and look at how Jesus says that we will have joy.
Last week I mentioned that love seemed to be the piece that tied all the other fruits together and built a strong and growing relationship with Christ. In fact, I looked at how Jesus pointed out that if we do not love, we do not know Him because He is love. Once again, it may appear that I am looking at love, but Jesus pointed out that love was the key to joy. After talking about love and remaining in Christ’s love Jesus says in verse 11, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete.” I find the phrase “your joy may be complete,” interesting. To me, it implies that joy is a journey; we don’t either have joy or have no joy. We are growing our joy as we walk in obedience and follow Christ’s example. It is like an upward spiral.
The more we walk in obedience, the more we will grow in Christ. Last week I studied how love is the greatest act of obedience which makes all of the other commandments fall into place. Love is basically what defines the law: love God and love others. As we love, we are being obedient and we grow closer to God. As we grow closer to God, the more overwhelmed we are by His love for us and our joy begins to grow. It may sound simplistic, but I can testify in my own life how my joy and excitement has grown stemming from my growth in my relationship with God. In order to find true joy in Christ, we need to obey and love. This is the best way to experience joy.
I am not going to imply that we will never feel sorrow because we have joy. Actually, in my own life, I think I feel and see sorrow more in this world we live in as my walk with God has become closer. The more we love, the more vulnerable we are to pain. The world doesn’t seem like home and I long to be at home with my Savior; however, I also experience joy all the greater. Bad things are still going to happen to us because we live in an imperfect world. We see the effects of child abuse, loved ones die; we live with physical pain or have to watch a loved one suffer. There are many ways to experience sorrow in this life, but God’s joy comes from the knowledge and hope we have in Christ. We know that there is more than what this life has to offer; we know that we are dearly loved by our Creator. We know that we have experienced the greatest love possible (John 15:13): “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.”
I want my joy to be complete! Are you living a life that is in obedience so your joy may be complete?
Tuesday, April 27, 2010
Friday, April 23, 2010
After writing all week about the importance of loving God, fellow believers, and anyone with whom we have contact; I felt that it would be good to wrap up this week and see how the Bible defines love. Please look up I Corinthians 13, the famed “Love Chapter.” Whenever I read this chapter, I am convicted of how some of my thoughts and behavior do not show love. When I have written in the past about comparing ourselves to God and not others, this chapter gives us a picture of who God is. Remember earlier in the week, we saw how the Bible says that God is love. Knowing that, we can read through I Corinthians 13 and get a glimpse of God.
The first thing we see is that no matter what we do here on earth, if it is done without love, it is worth nothing to God (verses 1-3). Remember from previous studies that God wants us to obey because our love and respect for Him compels us to obey. He doesn’t want obedience done out of guilt or an expectation of reward. If you find yourself obeying for the wrong reason, pray to God to change your heart. God will honor a prayer that will make us more like Him; He wants us to be like Him. This is why it is so important to love; we are to be a reflection of Him here on earth and we know that God Is Love.
Let’s look at what love is and isn’t. First I would like to look at what love is not so we can clearly see what it is. We are told that love is not envious, proud or boastful. Love is not rude; it is not self-seeking (or self-centered). It is not brought to anger easily and it does not hang on to offences by others. Love does not delight in evil. Love never fails! I feel convicted each time I go through this list, especially when it says it keeps no record of wrongs. Sometimes when a wound is deep, it is hard not to think on the hurt with anger but God wants us to forgive. What I have found when I am keeping a grudge is to ask God to help me forgive and my heart begins to soften.
Let’s now look at what love is. Love is patient, and kind. Love rejoices with the truth. Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres. Do you see some of the Fruit of the Spirit in this list? Love brings it all together! In fact in verse 13, Paul wrote that “the greatest of these is love.” Without love, nothing we do matters. Why? Because God is love.
I am providing a link for you to read I Corinthians 13 in the Message. It is a paraphrase, not a translation but it words this chapter so beautifully. Please enjoy reading!
Are you showing love in all your actions?
Thursday, April 22, 2010
If you read my welcome, you can see that an apple tree, when given to grow with no intervention, will bear fruit that is not worth eating. In fact, for many years the fruit from the apple tree was only used to make hard cider; it was rare to find an apple worth eating. Even the “antique” apple varieties are edible because of human intervention. If my information is correct, every apple that is sold in the store or grown in an orchard has had their genetic structure altered in some way. It is only through intervention that the apple tree consistently bears good fruit. Today we are going to read how it is only through Christ that we can bear good fruit. He is the true vine that produces the heavenly fruit.
Please read John 15:1-17 and absorb how important it is to remain in Christ. Yesterday, I wrote about Christ’s command to love each other. One thing that I noticed very clearly was how many of the scriptures that support God’s desire for us to love others were focused on believers loving each other. This section of scripture focuses on the only way that we are able to love others; it is only by remaining in the vine of true life – Jesus Christ! I don’t know if you noticed, but Jesus uses the word love several times in these verses. In fact, verses 9-17 mention love nine times! When we show love to others, we show that we belong to Christ. Jesus tells us that if we are not part of Him, we will not bear good fruit; “Apart from me you can do nothing,” verse 5b. Reading through these verses, we can see that bearing good fruit is important, but the one fruit that was mentioned nine times was love; showing us how important the fruit of love is. I will study how God defines love tomorrow and you will see how love truly binds all the other fruit together.
When we become a part of God’s family our spiritual genetic structure changes. Please look up Psalm 51:10. David wrote how God could give him a new heart – not a changed heart. The word create is used. When we are grafted into the vine, we are a new creation with a changed genetic structure. We can now bear the fruit that that is part of Christ’s genetics! Our old self (our old human seed) is no longer a part of who we are now. Christ has given us every ability to love, we just need to use the power to love given to us by remaining in the vine. How do we remain in the vine and grow in our walk? We read the Bible daily, we pray, we form spiritual friendships with people that will encourage us in our spiritual walk, we serve others, and we obey God. God has given us all the tools to grow and bear His fruit.
Are you living a life that is growing on the vine?
Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Yesterday, I wrote about the greatest command which is, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” I wrote how the Bible supports that the best way we can show our love to God is by obeying Him. Therefore, our love to God is the command that puts all other commands in order. Today, I am going to look at the command, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Please re-read Mark 12:28-34 today, if you haven’t already.
Since, I have just finished the study on Jesus’ parables; the parable of the Good Samaritan is fresh in my mind. This can be found in Luke 10:25-37; however, today I am not looking at this parable. I will say that this parable supports that anyone is considered our neighbor; it is not just people we feel comfortable around. So, as I am writing this post, please keep in mind that I am considering anyone in our sphere of influence our neighbor and we are to show love to them. Please look up John 13:34-35. Jesus was talking to His disciples in a very intimate setting. This was during the Last Supper, after Judas left the room; these were some of the last words Jesus would say to them before His death. Keep in mind, when a person knows that they are speaking some of their last words, they are going to make sure they say some things that are most important to them. Jesus just finished telling them that He would be leaving them soon and then said, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Finally, please read John 15:16-17. Jesus tells His disciples that it is time to bear the fruit of Christ which is, “Love each other.” The concept of loving each other is so important that it is all over the Bible. It is commanded in the Old Testament, and it is commanded in the New Testament. We are told by Jesus Himself that loving our neighbors is the second most important thing we could do in our walk with Him; the most important is to love Him. The following scriptures support and remind us the importance of the loving each other. Ephesians 4:2 says, “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” 1 Peter 1:22 says, “Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for your brothers, love one another deeply, from the heart.” I wondered if it was emphasized so much because it is so difficult; it is not always easy to love each other. Sometimes very deep wounds come from fellow believers in the church; however, God still calls us to love. It is not easy to love the person that hurt you, but remember that we are connected to the vine that gives us the fruit of love.
Are you showing love to those around you?
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Since I am studying about the fruit of love this week, who better to tell us about love than Jesus? Jesus showed us more love than anyone by dying for us. Jesus is God and spoke what God commanded as far love. If you remember, yesterday I looked at why God would consider love so important. The Bible showed us that God is love and therefore if we do not love, we don’t know God. Today, I am going to look at what God considered the highest priority to living for Him. Please turn to Mark 12:28-34.
I want to set the scene a bit. I read that one historian counted 613 different laws that the Jews of that day had to follow. I don’t know about you, but I think that it would get a confusing trying to sort out all those laws. We are not so different here in America. I know someone who took a job where he had to make sure that all the environment regulations for that industry were being kept. When he called the EPA to get a copy of the regulations for his industry they laughed at him; they explained that it would take at least one semi-truck to ship all the regulations. He had to resign himself to accepting that he would not be able to have a copy, and decide what the most important regulations to know were. Some experts of the Jewish law said that all laws were created equal, and some said that there were laws that were above and beyond all the other laws. The question that was asked of Jesus was controversial.
In this scripture, Jesus was quoting a command that is found in Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and in Leviticus 19:18. The teacher of the law then answered in verses 32-33, “’Well said, teacher,’ the man replied. ‘You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but Him. To love Him with all your heart, with all your understanding, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.’” Jesus answered him by saying, “You are not far from the kingdom of God,” verse 34. Jesus confirmed that there were two laws that were greater than any other. I want to look at why these commands are greater. Today I am focusing on the command to love God.
Please turn to John 14:13-21 and read what Jesus says of those who love Him. Jesus says in verse 13, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.” Basically, love is obedience, so when we love God all the other commands will fall into place. We will desire to obey God and please Him when we love Him. Jesus then promises the Holy Spirit to be with us forever, who will counsel us in the way we should walk. Jesus then says it again in verse 21, “Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.” Jesus was teaching us that love and obedience go hand in hand. Reading this, and thinking on it, we can understand why God doesn’t consider the fruit of love a gift, but rather it is an expectation. There is nothing greater than love for God and others. So, it is important that when we read the Bible, we are showing God love when we do what it says.
Are you showing God love through obedience?
Monday, April 19, 2010
Love is the first fruit I will be studying. God has made it very clear throughout the Bible that we are to love: we are to love God with every part of us, and we are to love everyone around us. This week, I am going to look at a few places where God gave us the command to love. You see, since God commands us to love, it leaves me to believe that love is not just a feeling, but it is a decision. I am not writing about romantic love, I am writing of the love that is expected in every believer’s heart. I also feel that when we begin to allow the Spirit to work in our hearts and we can love the way God would like us to love, all the other fruits will fall into place.
Let’s look at why God would consider love so important; please turn to 1 John 4:16. What does this verse say who God is? God is love. Knowing that God is love, please go back a few verses to 1 John 4:7-8. John wrote very clearly that if we know God, we will show love and if we do not love, we don’t know God. In verse 11 John wrote, “Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.” God is love and has shown us the greatest love we could ever know, so we can see why God would want us to love. John also writes in verses 19-20a, “We love because He first loved us. If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar.” Our ability to truly love is limited until we accept the love He has extended to us.
John sums it all up in verse 21, “And He has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” John also wrote more on the subject; please look up I John 3:16-18. I want to focus especially on verse 18, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” Our love cannot just be a verbal tribute; when we truly love we will be put into action. We will see the needs around us and do something. Love may be an action that requires forgiveness or understanding. Love is more than feeling good about someone; it is giving of ourselves to those around us. We are thinking of how our actions will affect the person next to us. God told us that if we love Him, then we will love our brother.
Are you choosing to love those around you?
Friday, April 16, 2010
Yesterday, I wrote how the phrase “since you have taken off your old self” made me think of a snake shedding its skin; today I am going to write about our new skin. Yesterday’s scripture also made me think of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. In that book, he wrote of Eustice, a self-centered boy who found a dragon’s cave filled with gold. As Eustice helped himself to the dragon’s gold, he himself turned into a dragon. The only way he was able to shed the dragon body was to give up the gold and have Aslan help him shed his skin, which was a painful process. I think it is important to remember that we need God’s help shedding our old selves; and it is good to remember that the process can be painful as we are asked to let go of something we may have enjoyed hanging on to.
Please read Colossians 3:12-17. Paul gently reminds us that we are now part of God’s chosen people, so we need to show it. In the music world, we have a term called “sight-reading.” This refers to the first time a musician looks at a piece of music; and how well the musician plays through the piece for the first time depends on how well they looked at important aspects of the music such as the key signature. Usually, a musician makes several mistakes while sight-reading; however, the musician is expected to improve the more they practice the piece. I truly feel that our walk with God is the same way. The more we use compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forgiveness, and love; the more it will become our nature.
Part of the answer to how to live this Spirit-filled life is given to us in Colossians 3:16a, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly…” God’s Word is life changing and divides the sinful nature from the Spirit nature. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the Word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Ephesians 6:17 says, “Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” We are given vivid examples in the Bible how God’s Word is not just words on a page; it is alive and active, and it is in you! You are being changed when you not just read the Bible, but you listen to what it is saying. When we meditate on His Word, we are empowered to do what God desires. There is another step to take, however. James 1:22-23 says, “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the Word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”
Paul ends this part of scripture with, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” We are living our lives for God and no one else; we are also His representatives to a lost world. It is so important that we are living the life He desires. Not only are we walking in obedience to Him because we are amazed by His love for us and our love for Him, but our changed lives give hope to those who are watching.
Are you letting God’s Word dwell in you richly?
Thursday, April 15, 2010
If you noticed yesterday, Paul’s writings talked about the fact that we died with Christ (Colossians 2:20); today I am looking at Paul’s writings that look at another action that takes place when we make Christ our Lord and Savior. “Since, then, since you have been raised with Christ, se your hearts on things above…,” Colossians 3:1a. We not only died to our sinful nature, we have been raised with Christ! For the next two days, I am going to explore what that means. What does it mean to be a Christian? This will mean that we are going to once again, look at scripture that defines what we shouldn’t do (sin) and then read what we should do. I want to remind you that when looking at a list like this, it is easy to fall into the legalism trap. Please examine your hearts while reading through these verses over the next few days. The point isn’t to try to look holy; the point is to trust in Christ’s resurrection power and let that bring you to an awareness of what a Spirit-filled life looks like. “Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory,” Colossians 3:3-4.
Verses 5-9 of Colossians 3 give us a clear list that is similar to Galatians 5 of what the earthly nature is and how that is not a life that belongs to us anymore. Please read through those verses if you haven’t done so already. These are things that easily can be a struggle. Paul writes that we are to put to death these things and to get rid of them. He says, “You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived,” Colossians 3:7. Last week, I wrote about how Paul explained in I Cor. 10:13 that God always provides a way out of our temptations. A perfect example of that was lived out in my life yesterday when I found myself frustrated with something and I wanted to “vent” to someone. I walked into the room ready to share my frustration about something someone did; the person unknowingly began talking to me about a completely different topic. I could have brought it up as soon as she was done sharing her news, but that had given me just enough time for me to reflect on the fact that it would not have been the way God would want me to react. This was an issue between me and someone else, and quite honestly, the issue was more mine since I decided to be offended. There was no reason to involve anyone else. God provided a way out; I had to choose to walk through that door.
We need to set our minds above because it gives us the opportunity to refocus and see the way out of the temptation. Please pray and ask God to reveal to you what needs to be taken out of your life and have replaced with a heavenly fruit. I am going to close with this last thought that Paul wrote in verses 9 and 10. Please reflect on this for some time and what it means for you who has accepted this new life. “Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” That is what we are doing by studying the Fruit of the Spirit; we are renewing our knowledge of our Creator and how we are to be an image of Him. We have taken off the old self; that gives me an image of a snake shedding its old scales and showing its fresh, newer scales. Take of the old skin of sin and show the new beautiful you that Christ has given you.
Have you shed the old skin, the sinful nature?
Wednesday, April 14, 2010
If you were with me during the parables study, you explored how the Pharisees and other experts in the law were often exposed in Jesus’ parables for a form of legalism. They were following the law exactly, and maybe even putting a stricter interpretation that was intended from the law. The problem with that was they were in this relationship with God only for the reward that would come from strict obedience. There was no love involved in their motivation for obedience. I am going to look at the subject of legalism today because there are wonderful brothers and sisters in Christ that are bound tight by the chains of legalism. Of course, God wants obedience; but He wants obedience out of love not out of an attitude of what we’ll gain in the end. Legalism can make it difficult to bear the fruit God wants in our lives. Legalism can lead to disappointment and a crisis of faith.
Please read Colossians 2:16-23; Paul has some very strong things to say about legalism. First, let me remind you that yesterday that we looked at how we were dead in sin (which was exposed by the law) and raised with Christ through our “faith in the power of God, who raised Him [Christ] from the dead,” Colossians 2:12. We are no longer dead to sin, yet why are we accepting judgment based on human standards and not listening to the one Judge that matters? Paul finishes this section of scripture with a very harsh assessment in verse 23, “Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.” You see, legalism may fix a surface, but it does not get at the root of the problem. Our human desires will not go away just because we are following a rule; we need a change of heart that can only come from the resurrection power in Christ. Psalm 51:10 says, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit with within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
2 Corinthians 3:6 says, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” Our hearts change only through the power of Christ; the Holy Spirit gives us the tools to change our behavior and poor thinking. Obedience to God is not the law; obedience to God is an attitude, a change of heart, a desire to please God. I am sorry I have written so many posts on the subject of obedience in our hearts, but I just feel that God keeps putting it on my plate. This is a faith issue. We need to get away from salvation through the law and realize that salvation is through Christ. The motivation to obey changes when we truly believe that Christ holds the keys to our salvation. Following a strict set of rules does not save you, nor does it make you more holy than the person next to you; Christ’s sanctifying power in your life is what you need to embrace.
Are you trusting and believing that your salvation only comes from Christ, or do you need to follow a set of rules to feel justified?
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
I fully intended to begin studying the Fruit of the Spirit today beginning with love. I had all the ideas mapped out in my head for this week, but God has other plans. As I was doing devotions with my family, we read a section in Colossians that I will come to later this week that fit so well with what I have been writing about. It gave more explanation about the law and how it fits in for us today and how we are to replace our sin with the Fruit of the Spirit. This week, I feel as though the theme is “Find and Replace,” just like a find and replace search on a computer. We are going to continue digging and find the sinful nature that God wants to take out of us and we are going to learn how to replace it with the fruit that God desires to see in us. The devotion that we read today likened it with a tree in the spring that still has dead leaves left on it from the fall. We had a bush like that in our yard; it drove me crazy because I would look at the leaves in the winter when they were turning slimy and black and think of how ugly it looked. However, in the spring the new leaves would push the old leaves off.
I want to explore a little more of how the law is viewed for us today. I had mentioned before that the law was written as though it was a marriage covenant between God and His people. Looking at the law in that light, it really does make God’s references to the Israelites as having prostituted themselves when they worshipped other gods seem even stronger. I, by no means, consider myself an expert of the Old Testament law. Please understand that anything I write is not an “expert opinion;” I am just writing what I feel God is showing me. Please look at Colossians 2:6-15; I think this explains a little better than I could possibly put into words what Christ’s sacrifice means for us today in regards to the law. I am going to zoom in on one verse in this section, but before I do that lets just rejoice in what verses 13-14 says: “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; He took it away, nailing it to the cross.” Can you let that truth wash over you and truly believe it? God made you alive in Christ and forgave all your sins!
I am going to zoom in on the fact that Christ “cancelled the written code with its regulations” and nailed it to the cross! The law was nailed to the cross. Remember the law was a marriage covenant? Please look up Luke 22:14-20; I am getting excited! Verse 20 says, “In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.’” Jesus was the beginning of a new covenant sealed in His blood for us. Are you touched and overwhelmed by His incredible love yet? I am not going to minimize the importance of the Old Testament law at all; we can read the law and see that God wanted us to love Him with every part of ourselves and to love everyone around us. He still wants that. What Christ changed for us was our chance for salvation; we were supposed to face punishment. He took our penalty according to the law and nailed it to the cross and conquered death. This doesn’t mean we are free to go on sinning; we have already read that in Galatians, and we will read more about it in Colossians. We can know that Jesus changed everything and told us that we are to live in the Spirit.
Have you fully embraced the new covenant? Do you live a life full of love because of the tremendous outpouring of love we have received from our incredible Savior?
Monday, April 12, 2010
Please read Galatians 5:22-26 if you haven’t already. Today I am looking at what becomes part of our nature when we are led by the Spirit. As I do this study, I am going to study each Fruit of the Spirit in depth so we can understand and apply what God desires to see in us. The important thing to remember when reading through this list is that these “virtues” are not gifts, this is a list of behaviors that God expects us to be living out. Spiritual gifts are a completely different thing, and the Spirit gifts each individual differently; Fruit of the Spirit is what every Christian should be showing in their life.
The list is so different from the list we read yesterday: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Paul then writes that “against such things there is no law,” verse 23. Once again, emphasizing that when we are being led by the Spirit, we are walking a life of obedience because our relationship with God is right. We are following the law better when we are showing all the fruit of the Spirit than when we are just following a set of rules with no love in our hearts. A pastor I work with explained to me that the law that was given to the Israelites on Mount Sinai was actually more like a marriage contract. He explained that it was a covenant of love between God and the Israelites; but the focus was lost and it became a set of rules for a lot of people. That would be the equivalent of a couple agreeing to a set of rules to follow in their marriage and once they were married they follow the rules exactly but forget why the rules were there. There is no longer love and communication in the marriage; they are just following a set of rules. God doesn't want us just to follow the rules; He wants a life that is showing a relationship with Him!
Paul then finishes this section of living in the Spirit explaining that, “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let keep in step with the Spirit,” Galatians 5:24-25. We have given up our sinful nature and have replaced it with the Fruit of the Spirit. The Spirit will convict us and steer us in the direction that God would have us go. Jesus promised us exactly that; He said in John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” What a beautiful promise and a gift of life! The Spirit will remind us of how Christ taught us to live!
Are you following the Spirit’s lead?
Friday, April 9, 2010
In my last post, I talked about Paul’s writing about the inner struggle that happens between the sinful nature and the Spirit in us. I also wrote that when we are living in the Spirit, we have been released from the law (Romans 7:6). Paul was not saying that the law was insignificant to us; rather, he was saying that when we allow the Spirit to guide our actions we do not need the law to tells us what not to do because the Spirit will always lead us in the way God desires. The law still allows us to know what sin is so we will not fall into its trap. Paul wrote in Romans 7:7-8a, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’ But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”
Can you relate to that statement? I certainly can! There have been times in my life that I didn’t think twice about something until I was told I couldn’t do it. I then found myself wondering why and wishing I could. That is the sinful nature. The law convicts us and points out our flawed thinking. Please look at Galatians 5:19-21 so we can see what our sinful nature would have us do. The list is convicting for each one of us in different ways. We each have something that is a greater temptation than it is for others. The good thing is the Spirit will point out to us when we are heading in that direction and will empower us to overcome the temptation. I Cor. 10:13 says, “No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” That is encouraging to know that we have God on our side!
Paul words the inner battle so well in Romans 7:21-25 with the encouraging finish in verses 24-25a, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” Praise God that He provided us salvation from our sinful nature and gave us someone who can relate to our temptations! Please look up Hebrews 4:14-16 and see how Christ understands our struggles. Jesus has been right where we are and understands the temptations that our humanness brings, but He was able to withstand the temptation and is without sin. Please look up Hebrews 2:14-18 and be encouraged by verse 18, “Because He Himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.” We serve a God who truly understands and gives us help!
We now can identify the sinful nature and the temptations that we are under. We also know that knowing what sin is can help us withstand the temptations with Christ’s help. I am excited to begin studying the Fruit of the Spirit so we can identify God’s nature and begin to live a life that reflects Christ in us.
Do you use the help that Christ offers to withstand the sinful nature?
Thursday, April 8, 2010
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
I enjoy children, and I have had a lot of experience with early childhood and early intervention when I was a music therapist. I became very familiar with developmental stages for the ages of birth through five. Toddlers were always interesting because they always seemed as if they had an inner battle going on. Some toddlers go through a phase where they begin to exercise verbal rebellion even though they may not mean what they say; they are just learning to express themselves and be assertive. I would joke that when a toddler was going through that stage, you could almost offer them their favorite treat and they would say, “NO!” just to say no. The three verses that I read for today made me think of that little toddler and how we must look like that to God at times.
Please read Galatians 5:16-18 and let it sink in. Paul begins this section by explaining that if we live lives that are led by the Spirit, we are not under the law. Was Paul saying that the law doesn’t apply to us? I don’t think so; I think he was pointing out that if we are being led in the Spirit, we will not need the law because we will be doing what God wants. Verse 17 points out that our sinful nature does not want what the Spirit wants. Paul explains it more in depth in Romans 7 and 8. I am going to spend some time in Romans 7 and 8 today exploring the idea of the law and the Spirit. Please read Romans 7:4-6. Once again, Paul was not saying that the law was worthless, he was just pointing out that Christ’s sacrifice and the Spirit in us has given us new direction. Verse 6 says, “But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” Did you notice that verse 4 says we are to “bear fruit for God?” We need to be careful of how we look at the Old Testament law, which Paul warns about in Romans 7:7, “What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law…”
Reading on in Romans 7 we see that Paul describes the inner battle of the sinful nature and the Spirit (Romans 7:15-25). Paul begins to describe what it means to be living in the Spirit in Romans 8:1-11. I love what Paul says in verse 5, “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.” We have all received the Spirit when we believed that our salvation is only through Christ (I Cor. 6:19), so we have the ability to live by the Spirit. In Romans 8:9, Paul says, “You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you.” Basically, God has given us the tools we need to live a life that desires to do what He wants. The Spirit empowers us and motivates us to do what is right, not the law!
It is a different mindset: do what is right, versus don’t do what is wrong. In child development classes, I learned that it was much better to ask the child to do the behavior you are expecting instead of telling them not to do something. For example, when a child is running in an area that is not safe, I would say, “Please walk,” instead of, “No running!” The theory is that the child will respond quicker because they are given a very specific behavior you desire from them and not leave them guessing about what they should do. The Spirit tells us more than the law; we are told what to do, not just what not to do.
I am so excited that I will be looking at the fruits over the next few weeks. I get to see what God wants me to do!
Are you living in the Spirit?
Tuesday, April 6, 2010
After reading about Jesus’ parables, I really felt that God impressed upon me the importance of bearing His spiritual fruit as we grow in Him. I decided that studying about the fruit of the Spirit would be a great study to do following the parables study. Today, I am just going to have a quick opening to the study, and I am going to dig in deeper tomorrow. Please read the selection of scripture for today if you have not already.
There are a few interesting points that I am going to look at this week: first, this section of scripture mentions that if we live by the Spirit, we are not under the law. I am going to look at that much deeper tomorrow. Another section talks about sinful nature, and I will be looking at that deeper on Thursday. The last point in this section of scripture talks about the fruit we are to bear when we are living in the Spirit. I will look at that a bit deeper on Friday. Next week, I will begin to look at each fruit of the Spirit separately and spend a few days digging into how the Bible defines them.
I just want to leave you with this thought: “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other,” Galatians 5:24-26. Since we have just celebrated Easter, these verses seem so fitting! When we have accepted the fact that we need a Savior and have given Christ authority in our lives, we truly have crucified our old sinful nature. We are to be living lives that reflect the work that God is performing in our hearts. So, “let us keep in step with the Spirit!”
I can’t wait to read what God has to show me about the fruit He desires to see growing in my life! I know He will stretch me and grow me through this process.
Are you ready for your next adventure with God?
Monday, April 5, 2010
I know that without Him I would be a mess. I am who I am only through the resurrection power of Christ. His resurrection is life changing and life giving. God is perfect, and not one of us is perfect. We have all sinned. On our own, we cannot be with God because of our sin; however, God wants to be with us. Because He loves us so much, He made a way to wipe away our sins. He sent Jesus to sacrifice, even though He is perfect, and take our punishment of death for us. Because Jesus conquered death and rose again, we are now given the gift of eternal life! We just need to believe this is true and accept the gift He has already extended to us!
Have you given your life to Christ and accepted His wonderful gift to you?
Friday, April 2, 2010
This study on the parables of Jesus was such a wonderful study to do during Lent! I feel that God spoke to my heart and convicted me in areas where I need to change. Isn’t it amazing how the same section of scripture can have new dimensions during different seasons of our lives and as we grow in our relationship with God? It seems amazing that God can implant so many applications in one story, but it is a wonderful reminder that our God is not linear. He puts application in for every listener. Oh, how I am thankful that God loves us so much that He fashioned the Bible to fit every reader!
There were some themes that seemed to come up often during the study on the parables that I would like to finish with:
- I find it interesting that God led me to start my study with the parable of the seeds. He opened this study to remind me that how I choose to accept His Word in my life will affect my walk with Him. It helped prepare my heart to listen to Him.
- Several parables were about the Kingdom of God. Jesus pointed out that God’s kingdom was in the body of believers. We were to experience life together differently by sharing God’s love.
- Jesus pointed out that our faith was not a one-time commitment, but it was an on-going process in which we grew through serving God by serving others.
- Another theme that came up often was the fact that we needed to watch what motivated our actions. Are we acting in obedience for a reward, or are we obedient because we love God? I think that thought process is an easy trap to fall in if you have been Christian for a long time.
- We also need to watch our attitudes with how we compare ourselves to others. God is the only One with whom to compare ourselves.
- We need to keep our eyes open to the needs around us and act on them!
With that last thought in mind, let us observe Good Friday remembering the sacrifice that Jesus made for us. There is nothing that can compare to His love that is so great that He died on a cross to accept our punishment. He is perfect, without sin, yet He carried our sins to the cross. Can we really accept such a gift of love and then not share it with others around us? Jesus saw our need for a Savior before we understood and He met our deepest need. Can we really close our eyes to the needs around us and believe that we are doing what Jesus would do?
Thursday, April 1, 2010
Wow! It is hard to believe that I am reaching the end of my parables study. I have enjoyed reading the words of Jesus as He spoke to us using stories to tell us what kind of life we are to be living. Have you ever seen any of the old movies about Jesus' life. I remember seeing them when I was a kid, and He was always portrayed as calm and serene, showing very little emotion. I can tell you now that is not the Jesus I know. The Jesus I know is a great storyteller who leaves me sitting on the edge of my seat wanting to know what's next. I feel like a child telling her mom or dad, "Tell me another story! Pleeeeese!"
Jesus tells this parable right after He had been telling what the end times would be like. As we have read in the other parables this week, he tells us that we are to keep watch and expect His return. He tells of a man who leaves his house and puts his servants in charge. Each servant has his own task, including one who is to keep watch. "If he [the master] comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping," verse 36. I don't want to be caught sleeping when I have a job to do. I'm not talking about the job I get paid for; I do believe that God gives us skills and places us where we belong, but I'm talking about the ministry that we are called to do here on earth.
A pastor I know has this phrase posted over the main door of his church so as people leave the church they read, "You are now entering your mission field." Isn't that true?! Our mission field is right where God has placed us and we need to keep our eyes open for the opportunity that He gives us daily. I have lived life far too long sleep walking; I want to have the eyes of my heart open to the needs around me.
If you do not know where to start, contact your church and begin serving at church. Ask your pastor what agencies the church partners with so you can serve others outside of church. Contact the city mission nearest you and see how you can serve there. Give food to a local food pantry. Deliver meals to those that are having a difficult time. There is so much pain around us, and Jesus wants us to make a difference.
Where will you make a difference?